25 scientists on three continents managed to sequence for the first time the entire cat genome of a domestic cat - the complete set of genetic information, encoded as DNA sequences within the 38 cat's chromosomes.(Annotated features of domestic cat – Felis catus genome, published 5th of Augusty on GigaScience).
Cats share about 250 analogous genetic diseases with humans. They are also vulnerable to similar infectious diseases like feline sarcoma virus and feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, being the only known naturally model for human AIDS.
The attempt to unravel the cat's genome isn't new ...
In 2002, The Feline Genome Project - entering their third decade -, proposed the sequencing of the whole genome sequence for the domestic cat (NHGRI White Paper, October 10, 2002).
And in 2007, Cinnamon, the Abyssinian living at the University of Missouri, Columbia - who provided also the genetic material for the current study - was first cat genetically sequenced, but the technology then was more primitive and only picked up about 60 % of the DNA.
The new study also included Boris, from St Petersburg and Sylvester, a European wildcat descendant. The present genome annotation closes finally the gap of sequences from previous genome sequencing, including 21,865 protein-coding genes.
99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative
At the same time the Project "99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative" with professor Leslie Lyons in assistance with the University of Missouri, Cornell University Texas, A&M University and UC Davis are working on sequencing the genomes of 99 cats from different breeds all over the world to improve coverage of the cat genome.
This is important because their genomes vary according to where they live and what racial population they belong to, like humans'. So Felines from the United States, Britain and Canada tend to be similar, while their genetic profile differs from cats in Egypt, from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In total there are about 12 racial groups, Lyon says.
Data helps understand diseases, not only in cats
Sequencing all 99 cats and full mapping the 20,000 genes in various breeds will generate a huge amount of data (equal to the capacity of nearly 200 desktop computers) which not only could help to better understand genetics and cat health problems, but also genetic diseases, infections and chronic illnesses like polycystic kidney disease and spinal muscular atrophy - in cats and humans alike.
Scientist hope that the findings also help develop vaccines and treatments for infectious human diseases and optimize therapeutic approaches prior to clinical trials in humans.
No cats are harmed for their studies; the DNA samples derive from "leftovers" from spayed and neutered cats (ovaries, uteruses and testicles).
All the data will be accessible to anyone through a cloud-based website.
And last but not least, the cat’s genome is of great interest to geneticists because it hasn’t changed much through evolutionary time.
In this context an article from io9.com puts the question which answer all cat lovers already know: "Why did dog domestication change canines so much, whereas cat domestication didn't change cats much at all?"
It's quite simple: THEY'RE PURRFECT!